“Have you ever been ignored by the very government you helped put in power? I have.”
Strong words from a man who has had to be strong. In 2010, Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III was swept into the Philippine Presidency on a tide of emotion and nostalgia. President Noynoy, PNoy, used the slogan “If no one is corrupt, no one will be poor” during his electoral campaign, on 29thMay 2012 we saw, with former Chief Justice Renato Corona, a very public display of how corruption is being dealt with in the ‘New’ Philippines.
On 5th June 2012, PhilGen had the honour of meeting his Excellency President Benigno ‘Noynoy’ Aquino III at the Intercontinental Hotel in Park Lane, London. Also present were leaders from across the Filipino community in the UK.
Slap bang in the middle of Her Majesty the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Celebration, PNoy arrived in London on his first official visit into Europe on his way to the White House to meet with President Obama. Whilst in the UK PNoy met with Prime Minster David Cameron, Duke of York Prince Andrew as well as brokering deals worth almost $1bn of investment on Tuesday and over $1.7bn on Wednesday! These deals involved the likes of Rolls Royce, Cebu Pacific, Gaz Asia, Aboitiz Equity, Glencore, Shell, Unilever and Cleveland Bridge.
The event itself was carried out with an efficiency that was refreshing; there were even rehearsals for all those present to shuffle onto the stage to pose for a photo with the President. The Embassy also made great use of Facebook to let everybody know they could log onto facebook and download their picture from the Philippine Embassy UK page, after clicking ‘Like’ on the page of course.
There were many notable personalities from the UK Filipino community present too, from Stage stars such as Joanna Ampil, Cleo Sagun, Ces Bonner, Gia Aitchison and Maya Duffy, World renowned artist David Medalla, Respected Filipino dance group Lahing Kayumanggi, accomplished singers Karlene Hayworth and Natalie Chua, Feng Shui Guru Marites Allen, Master Ermar ‘Alex’ Alexander from Doce Pares and Malcolm Conlan from Fil-Event.com. Many of whom performed on the night while PNoy was concluding a number of business meetings.
The most striking thing about the whole event was how relaxed PNoy was. More of a dialogue than a speech, there was less of the rigid formality and more of the jovial off the cuff jokes. In stark contrast to his predecessor, PNoy took it upon himself to shake every single person’s hand and also offer them a yellow ‘PNoy’ wristband.
The dialogue began with the positives, a 6.4% increase in GDP and changes that will leave the Philippines unrecognisable by 2016 and an introduction to the prominent business people sat in the front row. Among the Initiatives discussed was the increased investment in the Philippine Education system, increased budget for the Department of Tourism, the improved SLEX and NLEX, the new Provincial Bus routes and the assisted housing programme for Police Officers and Soldiers.
The majority of the dialogue however, was heavily spent criticising the previous administration and their expenditure as well as justifying his pursuit and impeachment of Chief Justice Renato Corona, which actually began in 2010 when PNoy was inaugurated. Once again PNoy stressed, as he did at his inauguration, that “You are the Boss…” PNoy and his staff are publicly elected officials working for the Filipino people.
One shame that was noted by a few in the crowd, was that there was no actual real mention of the community in the UK, no mention of the many different types of Filipino here, from nurses, to domestic staff to professionals, no mention either of the children of migrant workers. There was a distinct lack of connection with the British Filipino community. Perhaps we can gloss over this, as it is his first visit; he’s just impeached his Chief Justice, he’s still chasing down GMA and his focus is of course on rebuilding the Philippines. But I hope the next time PNoy comes to London, he’s briefed a bit better about what his ‘Bosses’ in the UK are like.
All in all, PNoy came across as very down to earth, approachable and likeable. It actually felt like a real honour to have met him and shaken his hand, that doesn’t often happen when meeting such high profile individuals. His warmth in taking time to shake hands with each of those present and his anecdotal tone to his dialogue was as refreshing as GMA’s sense of worth left a sour taste.
Many thanks to the Philippine Embassy London, Edward Lao, Carol Panday and Mae Williams for the images from PNoy’s Visit.